Small Plates

Let’s Put a Buffet on the Table and See What Happens

Bring us all a bit of everything. In case you’ve been living under a rock, that’s what the cool kids are doing at the buzzy restaurants for a fun, sociable meal. It’s a ritual of grazing with friends. Or maybe, it’s an intimate buffet.

An Unmistakable Trend

McDonald's Happy Sharing Box

The trend for sharing in restaurants is everywhere. What started with hipsters has now made its way to Applebee’s. Promoting “2 for $20,” the chain is prompting everybody to dip into sharing with a deal on two entrees and an appetizer. Even McDonald’s is testing the waters with a Happy Sharing Box.

If you think it will become a stale trend, you might be right. Or it just might be that the restaurant industry is tapping into something fundamental – the social value of food. Value means money. And when money talks, business pursues it. So maybe you shouldn’t bet on this sharing thing to disappear.

Upsizing the Check

Already, people eat more when eating out. Conventional wisdom has it that restaurant portion sizes contribute to the obesity epidemic. But shouldn’t a trend toward sharing smaller plates be a counter to that problem? You might think so. And it might be so for some people.

But then again, think about that all you can eat buffet. Think about bringing the buffet into the personal space that you and your dining companions share at your table. Stretching out a meal into a long grazing ritual can have real pitfalls. It’s easy to see how small plates can add up to a big load of food. And restaurants are happy with a bigger check. Servers work hard for a bigger tip. So much winning, we’ll never get tired of it.

And thus, small plates in restaurants might easily mean more overconsumption. Here we have one more example: the forces shaping obesity trends are often counterintuitive.

Click here and here for other perspectives.

Small Plates, photographs © Larry, Kurman Communications, Larry, and Larry / flickr

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March 27, 2018